5. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
Weird and wonderful, Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear is the most pop-minded of the experimental band Animal Collective and here he has given us his most accessible album. Don’t misunderstand though. It’s still strange. Otherworldly loops coalesce with obtuse lyrics and melodic hooks that simply stick in your brain. The two ballads I find to be a little weak, but overall here is an album the adventurous will find satisfying.
Favorite songs: “Mr Noah,” “Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker,” “Boys Latin”
4. Duran Duran – Paper Gods
Here is Duran Duran’s first attempt in years to activately seek out the sound of today’s hit makers and — surprisingly — it works especially since the band didn’t have to compromise their own sound too much. Can we talk about “Pressure Off?” Holy wolf hunger! What a song. The most infection thing they’ve done since “Notorious.” Maybe “The Reflex.” “Paper Gods” is the “Chauffeur” for a new generation and that chorus in “You Kill Me with Silence” is killer. All of this proves Duran is still — like Pet Shop Boys — a force in the music world.
Favorite songs: “Paper Gods,” “You Kill Me with Silence,” “Pressure Off,” “Butterfly Girl”
3. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
For those who have given Sufjan Stevens a try and thought it too weird and chaotic, rejoice! Here is his most straight-forward collection of arrangements in many years. Soft guitars, washes of electronics, beautiful harmonies, and nary a drum you will find here. It’s stunning. It’s also heartbreaking and somber especially in the nostalgic “Fourth of July.” A song that I will admit has brought me to tears a couple of times realizing it’s an imagined conversation with his estranged mother. Please don’t let any of this stop you from listening because you will miss some of the strongest melodies of the year. Gorgeous odes to his mother who passed away recently, but not before Sufjan could talk to her again. The pain is palpable and you can sing your heart out with it.
Favorite songs: “Death With Dignity,” “Eugene,” “Fourth of July,” “John My Beloved”
2. Grimes – Art Angels
Talk about left field. Here’s a singer/songwriter/producer/engineer whose philosophy is basically “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.” And like Eurythmics did with “Sweet Dreams” and their small masterpiece “Touch,” Grimes takes pop music, turns it on its ear, and gives the listener new ways to hear the genre. Stuff which the highly-polished overlords of the labels would never let happen. So many good songs: the slight-country of “California,” the sweet fuck off of “Flesh without Blood,” the club grand-standing of “Venus Fly,” the best-song-Curve-never-did in “Artangels,” but mostly in the gender swap that is “Kill V. Maim” where she uses K-Pop stylings to ironically hold a mirror up to the dark side of men in one of the most intense songs recorded into a computer. All mesh together in what Pitchfork is calling her job application to the world of pop superstars. It easy to see how they came to that analogy. After this, the Mileys, Taylors, and Nikkis will indeed be clamoring to work with this Canadian auteur.
Favorite songs: “Flesh without Blood,” “Kill V. Maim,” “Artangels,” “Venus Fly”
1. Marina & the Diamonds – Froot
Many times in my life, I’ve been drawn to an album cover with such curiosity that I’ve just bought the thing. The Beautiful South’s “Welcome to the Beautiful South” is an example. Froot kept showing up in the library’s coming soon list so with a “why not” I grabbed it. Instinct works. What an album. Here’s another strong woman who decided she needed to take control of her music. Gone are the multitudes of producers. Gone are the radio-friendly pop stylings. Here is Marina Diamandis at her most bare. She exposes her flaws (“Blue”), her fears (“I’m a Ruin”), and her bluntness (“Can’t Pin Me Down”) with music to match. It’s gorgeous, catchy, and seems honest and true to who she is. Thankfully, her wordplay is still here from earlier albums. “Froot” is a huge flora pun about her being horny: “Hanging like a fruit/Ready to be juiced.” “Can’t Pin Me Down” is a non-confirmaty fuck off: “You might think I’m one thing/But I am another/You can’t call my bluff/Time to back off, motherfucker.” “Savages” picks apart the horrible things humans do to each other: “I’m not the only one who/Finds it hard to understand/I’m not afraid of God/I am afraid of Man.” This is an emotional, cathartic release of an album. Beautiful, expressive, and wonderfully melodic, Froot is perfectly accessible and recommended listening for a road trip.
Favorite songs: “Froot,” “Blue,” “Can’t Pin Me Down,” “Better Than That,” “Savages”
Listen to the music
Favorites of 2015
The 2015 Partyline: A Collection of 2015 Party Songs